Police ombudsman’s position ‘untenable’ after High Court judgment

Dr Michael Maguire is not considering his position a statement from his office said
Dr Michael Maguire is not considering his position a statement from his office said

The police ombudsman has faced calls to quit after a damning High Court judgment found he exceeded his powers by declaring that officers colluded in the murder of six Catholics.

Unionists urged Dr Michael Maguire to consider his position after the highly critical judicial finding on his handling of an investigation into alleged officer misconduct in relation to the Loughinisland massacre.

The scene of devastation inside the Heights Bar where six Catholics were murdered by loyalists in 1994

The scene of devastation inside the Heights Bar where six Catholics were murdered by loyalists in 1994

But the ombudsman’s office told the News Letter that Dr Maguire is “not considering his position”.

Last year, the ombudsman claimed officers colluded in the 1994 UVF sectarian massacre in Loughinisland, in a landmark report that outlined a series of “catastrophic” investigative failures.

Former officers challenged Dr Maguire’s findings by way of judicial review and Mr Justice McCloskey has found against the ombudsman.

He said the determination of police collision was “unsustainable in law”, as it exceeded the ombudsman’s statutory powers.

The judge said RUC officers involved in the case had not been afforded the protection of due process, despite Dr Maguire’s “destructive and withering condemnations” being essentially presented as a verdict on their guilt.

“They were, in effect, accused, tried and convicted without notice and in their absence,” the judge said.

He added that the language and structure of sections of the report were “careless, thoughtless and inattentive”.

Justice McCloskey will sit again in the new year to consider whether the ombudsman’s funding should be formally quashed.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the judgment was an indictment on Dr Maguire and said he should consider his position.

“Some of language used by the judge here is very strong and powerful language and I think that he will need to consider very carefully the implications of this and the whole question of public confidence in his office,” he told the BBC.

Ulster Unionist policing spokesperson, Alan Chambers MLA, said the High Court ruling was a “devastating blow to the credibility” of the ombudsman’s office and felt Dr Maguire’s position was now “untenable”.

Mr Chambers said allegations of collusion have been used to “smear the reputation of the RUC and question the credibility of the justice system” in the Province.

“Some people seem to ignore the fact that the police – serving and retired – are entitled to justice and fairness too,” he added.

“For the Police Ombudsman’s Office to be the source of a report that has been so comprehensively rejected by the High Court should be a matter of huge embarrassment for the ombudsman, and he should do the right thing and go now.”

TUV leader Jim Allister echoed these remarks and said Dr Maguire has “much to reflect on”.

“His report has been branded ‘careless, thoughtless and inattentive in the language and structuring of the document’ and he has been found to have exceeded his legal powers,” the North Antrim MLA added.

“It is hard to think of a more damning verdict. It is time for Dr Maguire to consider his position.”

Sinn Fein MP for South Down Chris Hazzard insisted the ruling did not mean collusion did not happen.

“This is obviously a bitterly disappointing ruling but whatever criticisms have been made regarding the ombudsman’s handling of the report, that does mean that collusion was not involved in this case,” he said.

“There is a wealth of evidence already established regarding the scale of state collusion with the loyalist paramilitaries who carried out the Loughinisland massacre.

“And it’s important to state that the judge didn’t controvert any of the facts that were in the original ombudsman’s report.

“The car used in the attack was still destroyed, interview notes were still destroyed, suspects were still protected.

“Today’s ruling does not change any of that and Sinn Fein will continue to support the Loughinisland families in their campaign for truth and justice.”

Two UVF gunmen burst into the packed Heights Bar in Loughinisland in June 1994 and fired at customers watching the Republic of Ireland play Italy in the World Cup. Six Catholics were killed in the attack. No-one has been brought to justice for the atrocity.